Literary MagNet: Ye Chun

Dana Isokawa
From the November/December 2021 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

What words were turning inside her, as she cooked, waited for us to come home from work, from school, as she ate, slept?” asks a character about her grandmother in Ye Chun’s story “To Say.” Versions of this question thread throughout Ye’s story collection, Hao (Catapult, September 2021), which depicts Chinese women, particularly mothers, as they struggle to be heard and find the language to express their realities. In “Stars” a student loses her ability to speak after a stroke; in “Crazy English” a Chinese immigrant faces disbelief from her white American husband about the dangerous attention of another man; in “A Drawer” an illiterate woman takes up drawing when her husband abandons her. Ye writes precise and lyric prose (“her heart feels like a scroll of moon-white space that opens, and is edgeless”) and in each story shows how language can be a refuge for those whose circumstances threaten to erase them.

“I have tremendous respect for publishers and editors of independent journals,” says Ye, who also pens poetry and translation and has won three Pushcart Prizes. “They’re people dedicated to pursuing their aesthetic visions, supporting new voices, connecting readers and writers—and doing all this against many odds.” Ye found such an editor in Paul B. Roth at the Bitter Oleander, a poetry press and biannual print journal based in Fayetteville, New York. Ye has called the publisher her literary home for the past fifteen years; the press released her debut poetry collection, Travel Over Water, in 2005. Ye notes that Roth is a “sharp and compassionate editor” who made smart cuts to “Wings,” her story in Hao about a woman with a lackluster job and marriage who starts to see a winged child no one else can see. “Paul doesn’t just publish a writer’s work; he cares about who and how they are,” adds Ye. After publishing for more than twenty-five years, the Bitter Oleander released its final issue this fall. The press will now focus on poetry in translation and is open to proposals for translated books through March 2022.

When Ye started experimenting with short fiction—she cites Lydia Davis, Louise Erdrich, and Denis Johnson as inspirations—she was greatly encouraged to keep going by her experience with the Threepenny Review. After she submitted to the print quarterly, she received a personal note from editor Wendy Lesser asking to see more. In 2016, Lesser published Ye’s story about motherhood and the spectatorship of poverty, “Milk,” which went on to win a Pushcart Prize. Founded in 1980 in Berkeley, California, the Threepenny Review brings together poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and criticism, and counts Louise Glück and Javier Marías, among others, as regular contributors. Submissions in all genres open on January 1, 2022. 

Ye published “To Say,” which she describes as a “hybrid of prose poetry, memoir essay, and short fiction,” with the experimental journal Denver Quarterly in 2017. Founded in 1966 by novelist John Edward Williams, the print journal champions avant-garde poetry and prose and is edited at the University of Denver. In 2020 the editors launched a digital arm, Fives, which features on a rolling basis “audioscapes, visual work, short films, digitally inclined prose, poetry, and criticism, and artistic experiments.” Submissions in all genres for both the print quarterly and Fives are currently open via Submittable.

Hao’s title story takes place during the Cultural Revolution and revolves around a widow and former teacher who, despite being regularly humiliated and beaten by Red Guards, manages to care for her young daughter by teaching her Chinese characters and their oracle-bone sign antecedents. Ye published the story in the Georgia Review, where the print quarterly’s editors treated the story with care. “The then longtime editor, Stephen Corey, and the managing editor, C. J. Bartunek, provided me with attentive line-edit suggestions, and the design manager, Scott LaClaire, beautifully reproduced the oracle-bone signs in the story,” she says. The review, which is now led by editor Gerald Maa, is based at the University of Georgia in Athens and publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, reviews, and art. The editors write, “Convinced that communities thrive when built on dialogue that honors the difference between any two interlocutors, we publish imaginative work that challenges us to reconsider any line, distinction, or thought in danger of becoming too rigid or neat.” Submissions in all genres are open until May 15, 2022.

“I was tremendously impressed by fiction editor Polly Rosenwaike’s editorial acuity,” says Ye about publishing work with Michigan Quarterly Review. “My story ‘Anchor Baby’ had gone through many rounds of edits before Polly looked at it, yet she was still able to catch moments of linguistic imprecision. I love that kind of perfectionism with words.” Ye’s piece appears in the review’s summer 2021 fiction issue alongside stories by writers including Farah Ali and Elizabeth McCracken. In addition to fiction, the journal, which is edited at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, publishes poetry, nonfiction, translation, and criticism in print and online. General submissions will open on January 15, 2022.    


Dana Isokawa is a writer and editor living in New York City. She is the managing editor of the Margins, the literary journal of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and a former senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.